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Why You Should Start a Food Blog, Even If No One but Your Mom Reads It

June 13, 2018

I started a food blog a month after I turned 19. I was still in college and named it Dourmet, a portmanteau of "dorm" and "gourmet." Get it? I imitated the Gourmet font (RIP, love you forever) with Microsoft Word and a screen capture. This all felt high-tech and very clever at the time.

Looking back, both the title and concept were cloudy, even misleading. At first glance, dorm-gourmet implies a seat-of-your-pants creativity—you know, turning dining hall ingredients into a triple-tier cake, or hosting a Friendsgiving feast with a mini fridge, microwave, and zero other appliances.

But I had other appliances. Besides an oven and stove, I also had a food processor, blender, and spice grinder. I even had an ice cream machine. I stowed these in my closet, amid dirty clothes and used textbooks, and toted them to my friend’s kitchen every time I wrote a post.

Best 19th birthday present? Obviously a blender. Photo by Amy Laperruque

Which is to say, I was cooking in a dorm, but in a fully stocked kitchen in a dorm. Is that cheating? 19-year-old me shrugged. If my readers cared, they never told me.

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Top Comment:
“At this point, I do consider myself a food writer, but up until recently, I considered myself to be someone who loved writing and food, separately. Only recently did I come to terms with the fact that the more you enjoy a topic, the easier, and more fun, it is to write about it every day. A college professor once told me to "write what you know" and that always stuck in the back of my mind year after year since graduating amidst all of the various writing I've done. These days, I'm taking that message to heart and writing about what I know about (and love) the most: food. And it's really, really fun. :) Glutenfreemollied.com ”
— Mollie D.
Comment

Take "readers" with a tablespoon of salt. These were, unfailingly, my family and friends and family friends. But it was mostly my mom reading my blog, because no one else really knew about it. Which sounds sad and self-deprecating. But I don’t mean it that way. If my blog had taken off and I had become the next big thing, that would have been cool. And of course when I started Dourmet, I hoped that would happen. It took a couple years to realize it probably wouldn’t.

I kept writing anyway.

I did a lot of unpaid, food writing-ish internships. At one of them, the summer before my senior year, someone said something that I still think about: “There’s no such thing as a food writer. Just a writer, who writes about food.”

This was at one of the many “lunch and learns” I attended as an intern at The Daily Meal. The (many) other interns and I squished into a conference room and ate lunch and learned something. Say, how to get a job. How to beef up your Twitter. How to get a job by beefing up your Twitter.

At this particular L&L, a well-seasoned food editor shared career advice. I listened. I nodded. I scribbled in my Moleskine. But even that afternoon—and increasingly so ever since—all I could think was:

I don’t agree.

There is such a thing as a food writer. It’s my job at Food52. And it was my job before I got here. And it was the reason I was at that L&L at The Daily Meal in the first place. And it was the reason I started Dourmet. And it was the reason I did, well, most of the things I did.

But this editor's lesson was still: There isn’t food writing. There’s just good writing. Grabby first sentences. Precise words. Airtight research. Killer quotes. It’s not what you write about. It’s how you write.

So let’s go with that.

I’m just a writer. I write about roast chickens and chocolate–peanut butter cookies. But let’s say, tomorrow, I come into work and my editor tells me, "We need you to write a football scouting report." Because I’m a writer, I should be able to do this.

Just one quick question: What's a scouting report?

I bop around Google to find out: Oh, it’s a player-focused game preview. Cool. Let’s look at an example for inspo. Cool, cool. I can do this. All I need to do is figure out: Team rankings. Team players. Those players’ respective positions. What those positions mean. (The quarterback is important, right?) Which players are injured. What all these nifty-sounding terms mean: pass rush, run game, drive start. While we’re at it, what do all these yards mean? Seems like you can give up yards. Is that bad? And seems like you can average yards? But how? And speaking of yards, how many points do you score in a touchdown? Does it matter if you catch the ball in the end zone or run into the end zone with the ball? And what if you throw the ball through that giant yellow thing? Do you get more points that way? Wait. Are they called points?

Now imagine a sports writer writing about a roast chicken.


Stephen King once wrote, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." I would add a few words: If you want to be a food writer, read about food a lot and write about food a lot.

Also, if you want to be a food writer, maybe roast a chicken. Roast a lot of chickens. Roast all the chickens. And then spend a lot of time thinking: What goes well with roast chicken? Bread. Okay, how do you make bread? Now make a loaf of bread. And what goes well with bread? Butter. What type? And why? Can you make butter? How? And then turn that into 500 words. By tomorrow.

If there are sports writers, travel writers, news writers, and features writers, why can't there be food writers? Sure, there are the Frank Brunis of the world, writers who thrive in multiple fields. But for those who care about a single specialization—and, for what it's worth, each specialization is vaaast in its own right—why not capitalize on that passion? With enough research, I could write about football. And I could write as if I'm excited about it, too. But I'd be lying. And you'd be able to tell.

Let's say, then, that you're like me: You're smitten with food publishing. And you're just starting out. What now?

It's a catch-22. If you’re a teenager, still in school with no connections and no experience, who the heck is going to publish you? The easy answer is: probably no one. But the trick answer is: you. You’re going to publish you. And your mom is going to read it and tell you, "You’re doing great, sweetie." And she may be twisting the truth and that’s okay. Because the point isn’t to be great.

The point is to get better. To learn as you go. To find your voice. Hold yourself accountable. Stay current. Challenge yourself. Figure out another way to say "salty" because you’ve already used that word and what if, maybe, you talked about the air by the ocean instead?

And if you get some recognition while you’re at it, that’s cool, too.


ANOTHER SECRET TO GOOD WRITING: COFFEE

Are you a food writer? What advice do you have for your peers? Share in the comments below.

13 Comments

KitchAnnette |. July 30, 2018
I started writing my blog, KitchAnnette.com (and subsequent channel) when I chickened out (geez... always a food reference hahaa) of starting a lunch delivery business. I'd come up with the name "accidentally" and "needed" to use it somehow so I started the blog as a placeholder. And I liked it. And started the channel. And wrote a cookbook! And am always excited to write my next installment. Not only do I please my followers but it's my perfect personal recipe box! If I'm don't yet write to millions, at least I'm writing to myself and the universe and that's not too shabby. Everyone should put their passions to "paper" and explore what they love.
 
Cassandra B. July 2, 2018
My blog, Delectatus.com, is barely 6 months old, and I think my husband is my only reader, though other family members sometimes take a look. I've kept my expectations realistic (i.e. low :)) It can be quite discouraging, believing that you're really just talking to yourself. But it's a wonderful venue for creativity and of course a great place to practice both writing and cooking! I found this article to be affirming and encouraging...thank you!
 
SFCohen June 18, 2018
Delightful read, Emma! Best of luck in your career, you've definitely got your eyes on the prize! I'm an avid home cook who *thinks* about maybe blogging, you've given me hope. Even if only my daughter reads it... :)
 
Moenbailey June 17, 2018
“Because the point isn’t to be great. The point is to get better.” This is really great advice. Thanks for the inspiration!
 
Susan H. June 17, 2018
I read this article while waiting for my oven to preheat and pastry to soften for the 8th galette I have made this month. I started a food blog when I left my husband of 37 years and our business of ten years: a bed & breakfast where I cooked every day, everything from breakfast to dessert and snacks in between. I started a food blog because I have something to say about life, love and food. It has been one of the best things I ever did. By far the most rewarding posts are the ones that garner questions about small details in cooking the dish or the posts which touch someone's heart in making them feel the experience that is food and I would NOT be happy if only my mother read it. I don't think any of us in the arts (and yes, writing is an art) would be doing it if we didn't want/ need to express ourselves to other. The blogs (and bloggers) that work get this. awomancooksinasheville.com
 
Susan T. June 17, 2018
I loved reading this, thanks! :)
 
Smaug June 15, 2018
Ah, the curse of the "just a writer". Newspapers have generally put novices on obituaries, where you can get by with just the ability to put words together, or sports, where you can't do much real harm, or features, where highly technical but little respected subjects such as cooking, gardening, and worst of all home improvement, were left in the hands of whoever had 15 minutes to research them. Nevertheless, now that newspapers scarcely hire writers at all I kind of miss that stuff.
 
Ali W. June 13, 2018
Thank you! I can't tell you how annoying I find some food bloggers that have admittedly never roasted a chicken. Or never test their recipes. Or think that assembling vegetables in a pretty-looking bowl makes it a dish worthy of publishing a cookbook. Sorry if this sounds mean, but I just think some bad bloggers now are overshadowing those really, really great bloggers out there who are doing a fantastic job at recipe developing, testing, photographing, researching and writing! So shoutout to those great bloggers who are killing it and inspiring us every day!
 
Linda June 17, 2018
I follow a special diet for health reasons. And I discovered that way too many people who want to "help" other people stick with it by publishing the recipes they eat don't know basic technique and baking chemistry. I read their recipes and make changes before I even try them because I can tell they won't work, will be too flavorless to enjoy, or the instructions are either oversimplified or overcomplicated. I use their recipes mostly for inspiration for my own.<br /><br />The thing is that, while I learned to cook from professional chefs, I still research new techniques, check out the food scientists for tips, and constantly try to improve my cooking and my recipes. I think if you're going to write a food blog, you should learn to cook beyond what your mom taught you. And that information is readily available. You don't need to go to culinary school or work in a restaurant. You just need to use Google well and cook a lot.
 
Mollie D. June 13, 2018
What a great piece! Couldn't agree more with the points above - enjoyed the football and roast chicken comparisons (maybe we should make our own butter?). At this point, I do consider myself a food writer, but up until recently, I considered myself to be someone who loved writing and food, separately. Only recently did I come to terms with the fact that the more you enjoy a topic, the easier, and more fun, it is to write about it every day. A college professor once told me to "write what you know" and that always stuck in the back of my mind year after year since graduating amidst all of the various writing I've done. These days, I'm taking that message to heart and writing about what I know about (and love) the most: food. And it's really, really fun. :) Glutenfreemollied.com
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 13, 2018
One of my teachers told me "Write what you know," too!
 
Mollie D. June 14, 2018
:) That's awesome!
 
Nealsonwheels June 13, 2018
Definitely agree with the above, but I’d also add that keeping a blog is also helpful to yourself as an archive of your recipes and experiments. I’ve made hundreds of dishes over the last couple of years, but I realized that I don’t fully remember how to cook anything I made more than a couple of weeks ago. I hope my recipes get seen by other people, but if nothing else, I’m slowly building out my own personal cookbook and have a pretty sweet record of the stuff I’ve tried out. (By the way, the blog is over at www.nealsonwheels.blogspot.com)